Site claims new Nvidia GPUs are faulty, Nvidia denies


— 11:02 AM on December 15, 2008

Ever since admitting that a bad packaging material caused some of its mobile chips to fail, Nvidia has been under close scrutiny from the press. Last week, The Inquirer claimed to have hit the jackpot by showing that new GeForce GPUs inside Apple's latest laptops use the "bad" packaging material that caused previous chips to fail.

After cutting apart a new, retail-bought MacBook Pro and putting its chips under an electron microscope, The Inq showed that the discrete GeForce 9600M graphics processor used high-lead bumps to connect GPU silicon and substrate—all despite Nvidia's assurances that the GeForce 9600M package uses a "new material set."

The evidence seems clear, but we noticed a problem with the site's assertions: Nvidia explicitly told us two months ago that there's nothing inherently wrong with high-lead bumps. In fact, many other companies continue to use them. Nvidia attributes the mobile chip failures to a "combination of factors" and not the use of a certain bump type.

That left the "new material set" claim. Had Nvidia lied to The Inq about the 9600M's packaging? We sent the company an e-mail to ask for more details, and though we still haven't received a reply, we see Nvidia indirectly answered our question in a chat with CNet News. Here's the word from Nvidia VP Michael Hara:

The Inquirer reporter "believes high-lead bumps are bad. That's his underlying theory. It's not true," Hara said. . . . Hara talked about how the original problem announced by Nvidia on July 2 was rectified. "A more robust underfill would have taken the stress off the bumps and kept that (original problem) from happening. What we did was, we just simply went to a more robust underfill. Stopped using that (previous) underfill, kept using high-lead bumps, but we changed the underfill. And now we don't see the problem."

In other words, Nvidia was apparently referring to a different underfill material (the "glue" that keeps bumps from failing) when it mentioned the "new material set." As for high-lead bumps, Hara went so far as to say, "Intel has shipped hundreds of millions of chipsets that use the same material-set combo. We're using virtually the same materials that Intel uses in its chipsets."

Unless GeForce 9600M GPUs suddenly start failing in droves, MacBook Pro users can probably breathe a collective sigh of relief and go back to flaunting their notebook choice on Internet forums.

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